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CHI St. Alexius Medical Center, shown here in May, in Bismarck is the oldest hospital in North Dakota.

Catholic Health Initiatives' top executive made the trip to Bismarck Thursday to meet with CHI St. Alexius Health physicians voicing concerns over employee morale and patient safety.

CHI interim Vice President and COO Tony Jones told physicians he would review CHI's North Dakota administrative leadership as well as the division’s location in Fargo, according to a statement by the hospital.

Jones is a hospital turnaround consultant who was brought in by CHI in late 2016, when the health care system was suffering an operating loss of $217.8 million. CHI’s financial standing has since improved, with S&P Global upgrading the organization’s outlook in April from stable to positive as it continues merger talks with San Francisco-based Dignity Health.

With those promises in hand, physicians returned to their spots on a number of hospital committees that they had previously vacated in protest over, what they felt, was an unresponsive team of regional corporate executives.

“We are pleased that the medical staff at CHI St. Alexius Health voted this morning to reinstate the Medical Executive Committee, the Peer Review Committee and the Credentials Committee through June 15. Through open dialogue, reflection and greater understanding, the medical staff working with CHI leadership has found a productive path to further discussions,” the hospital said in a statement.

Thirteen members of the Medical Executive Committee, whose functions are tied to the hospital's accreditation with the state and Joint Commission, resigned earlier this month. That committee and others continued to function with a small number of remaining members.

At that time, a working subcommittee also was formed to try to work through the issues raised: a “chronically overburdened” staff; resignation of hospitalists; attempts by nurses to unionize over concerns related to patient care; patient requests for assistance going unanswered in a timely manner due to a lack of available staff; emergency room and surgery volumes being down; and a drop in the safety grade given to the hospital by the Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit hospital rating company started to provide hospital safety data to consumers.

The hospital board voted to expand the size and scope of that nine-member subcommittee to a permanent 12-member Joint Conference Committee with the Medical Executive Committee, the Board of Directors and CHI administration each having four representatives. Membership will be announced when it is fully constituted.

“CHI, our board and our management have been open to the physicians’ professional recommendations and opinions about the care we deliver and the environment in which we deliver it. Leadership has worked hard in a good faith effort to find common ground and accommodation with the medical staff and in turn, today, the medical staff has done the same. We have the utmost respect for our physicians,” the hospital said in a statement.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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